Can Denver get back to 4-4 in the 404?
After an 0-3 start to the season, the Broncos can improve to .500 on the season with a win over the 2-6 Falcons.
With a victory, the Broncos would also match their total number of road wins from a season ago just halfway through their road slate.
"We've been pretty resilient," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "It hadn't affected our effort, it hadn't affected our intensity, our preparation. These guys have just kept pounding away at it, and we've had some results the last three out of four weeks go our way and hopefully we can continue that way."
These are the questions that will decide if Denver can earn a win in Atlanta:
HOW WILL DENVER'S SECONDARY RESPOND WITHOUT A.J. BOUYE?
The Broncos ruled No. 1 cornerback A.J. Bouye out of Sunday's game against the Falcons, which could prove costly against a dangerous Atlanta passing attack. Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons rank second in the NFL in passing yards per game, and they feature two of the league's best receivers in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Both Jones and Ridley rank in the top 12 in the NFL in receiving yards, and they've combined for eight receiving touchdowns on the season. Ridley is questionable with an ankle injury and did not practice this week, but Jones is a perennial Pro Bowl player that should challenge Denver's secondary. Without Bouye in the lineup, Bryce Callahan could be Denver's best option to challenge Jones. Of course, that depends if Callahan is able to play. He's listed as questionable with an ankle injury, but Fangio said he's progressing toward being able to play. The 6-foot-3 Jones would have a significant height advantage over the 5-foot-9 Callahan, but the Denver cornerback held his own against the 6-foot-4 Mike Williams in Week 8. Fangio said Callahan's end-zone interception was perhaps the best play of the cornerback's career, and Callahan now has a pair of interceptions on the season. The Falcons' rushing attack ranks just 19th in the NFL, so it's clear Atlanta's strength lies in its passing attack. If Callahan can keep Jones in check — or neutralize the two-time first-team All-Pro — Denver should like its chances to limit the Falcons' offense.
CAN DREW LOCK TURN IN ANOTHER SOLID PERFORMANCE?
Drew Lock rebounded from a tough first half to toss three fourth-quarter touchdowns and help Denver earn a 21-point comeback win. What's next? As the Broncos look to improve to 4-4 on the season, Lock will need to build off his performance and help the offense continue its momentum. Lock should have the opportunity to make some plays against the league's 31st-ranked passing defense that will be without pass-rusher Dante Fowler. If Tim Patrick is able to play — he's listed as questionable with a hamstring injury — Lock will have nearly his full complement of weapons and should be able to get the ball to players like Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant in space. Perhaps KJ Hamler and Albert Okwuegbunam can also build off their first career touchdowns from Sunday's win over the Chargers. Inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the conditions will be perfect. Perhaps Lock can replicate his performance from the only other time he's played in a dome: a three-touchdown performance last season against the Texans. If Lock comes up big again, it should be enough to earn Denver a win. And it would also be enough to force Colin Cowherd to dance on national TV.
HOW WILL DENVER HANDLE ADVERSITY?
For the second consecutive week, the Broncos canceled a practice due to COVID-19 concerns, but the COVID impact likely won't end there this week. The Broncos had to place starting defensive lineman Shleby Harris on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and Fangio said there's less than a 50-50 chance that he'll play this week. The Broncos continue to be without Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell, and the intensive protocols have prevented the team from holding in-person meetings.
Denver also has to fly back to the East Coast — the team's fourth trip to the Eastern time zone this season — to play an 11 a.m. MT game against a Falcons team that has won two of their last three games. Atlanta may be 2-6, but the Falcons are a talented team that has lost several games at the wire. In no way is this an easy task, and the Broncos will need to put the distractions behind them and be ready to play. Against an explosive offense like Atlanta's, falling behind by double-digits may be far more problematic than it was a week ago. The Broncos have typically been ready to play under Fangio's leadership. They'll need to maintain similar focus to earn a win and get back to 4-4.